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A World of Trouble

New York Times correspondent Patrick Tyler analyzes 50 years of US policy in the Mideast.

By Rayyan Al-Shawaf / January 5, 2009



In A World of Trouble, New York Times chief correspondent Patrick Tyler distills 25 years of journalistic experience and a mountain of declassified government documents into an erudite, unusually eloquent analysis of a half century of United States policy toward the Middle East.

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Don’t expect, however, to be heartened by what you will read here. “After nearly six decades of escalating American involvement in the Middle East, it remains nearly impossible to discern any overarching approach to the region,” writes Tyler. “What stands out is the absence of consistency from one president to the next, as if the hallmark of American diplomacy were discontinuity.”

Relying on information newly made available from presidential archives, Tyler takes readers on a tour of American relations with the Middle East from the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower through that of George W. Bush.

But where Tyler particularly excels is in tackling the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, a thorny subject that assumes center stage for several chapters. Though there have been the occasional breakthroughs in reconciliation efforts – principally the Carter-brokered Camp David Accords – Tyler sees the timidity of some US presidents in the face of Israeli hawkishness as a major impediment to lasting peace.

For example, Tyler notes that President Johnson did not demand that Israel give up its 1967 conquests. Decades later, during the Clinton era, Tyler writes, “American constancy suffered as Clinton allowed his administration to cave to Netanyahu’s demands to wipe the slate on which Rabin had charted a path to comprehensive peace and reconciliation.”

The US approach to Iraq, which Tyler dissects in meticulous fashion throughout the book, provides another example of baffling inconsistency. Ronald Reagan ended up supporting both sides in the Iran-Iraq War; George H.W. Bush encouraged Shiites to revolt against Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, then failed to come to their aid; Bill Clinton dithered on supporting CIA-organized Iraqi coup plotters, which led to the compromise of the operation and the deaths of the plotters; and George W. Bush invaded Iraq without planning for the postwar period.

But Tyler does not restrict himself to presidential blunders. He pointedly assails the machinations of several cabinet members as well.

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